‘Little Voices From Fukushima’ bridges time and space between Chernobyl and Japan
However pitched her debate of choice may be, and however culturally freighted its most contemporary iteration has become in Japan, Kamanaka’s films persist in asking a particular question: How and why our particular moment in human history has accommodated itself (in a strikingly quotidian way) to a technology which could, under the right circumstances, become earth-shattering, and which occasionally has been.
In her latest film, Kamanaka looks at one source of these curious accommodations and their contested future: children growing up with the implications of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.This isn’t the first time Kamanaka has placed her faith in making documentaries which regard the damaging effects of radiation as a multipolar phenomenon, indifferent to questions of nationality and culture. Nor is it the first time that a Japan-based artist has fixed their gaze on what’s to be learned from Chernobyl. ‘Little Voices’ is thus an elaboration of several conversations between social documentarians in Japan and the many types of accepted wisdom they seek to challenge.
In an interview with Anastasia Smith, Kamanaka discusses the texture and significance of using film to send political ideas across languages and borders. See the full version of the interview soon, as the KJ 81 web special.
The Japanese government has approved the restart of two nuclear power plants near Sendai. Is this a particularly important moment for your work and your message?
People think that the big accident is the problem, that Fukushima is a special occasion because a big earthquake occurred, and that we can manage with other nuclear power plants. But what I’ve been describing is how radiation affects the human body. Major scientists understand now—there is consensus—that for radiation safety, the acceptable level of radiation is zero.
It takes time, the nature of radioactivity’s effect. Maybe three years after the disaster you cannot see a difference, but after three years you’re noticing: Oh, my neighbor or my relatives and my family are getting tired or are susceptible to the flu. Or your friend found a tumor in her breast. Small things happen after three years, but you can still convince yourself that everybody experience these problems.
That’s why I went to Belarus for my latest film, Little Voices from Fukushima, because there are 25 years’ difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima. These things already happened there. They can see the future, I think.
I understand that human beings have a social kind of existence. So if you lose your social and geographic roots, you cannot survive. People are forced to choose: Do you forget about your social ties, or do you choose your health? Immediately following this kind of disaster, health issues seem less immediate because they aren’t apparent right away, and even then they are invisible at first. So people choose their homes and their careers and their communities instead of their health. This dynamic is used by the government to reduce their financial liability to these people. They say: “Oh, we don’t need to compensate them. People like to live in that community. They choose to live there.” People are silent. People don’t complain.
Do issues of womanhood and motherhood naturally call up issues of environmentalism?
My film is almost complete, so I’ve had several screenings—for my staff and some outside people. Afterwards, they said, “Only women! Where are the fathers? Where are the men? You cut away the men. Did you cut away men?” It wasn’t my intention, but it did happen; I focused on this issue, and only women appeared.